Mafia II, a third-person action shooter from 2K Czech, allows you to step into the shoes (are those cement shoes?) of just returned American WWII soldier Vito Scaletta just as he is forced to turn to a life of crime and seek “employment” within the mafia. Actually, you get to help Vito through a mission DURING WWII before you return home to Empire Bay to be forced into said life of crime. Vito starts out doing small “favors” for his friends and family but eventually moves up to bigger and badder missions within the organization all the while trying to piece together clues to how his father was murdered and by whom. It’s a gritty and fairly well told story coupled with good third-person mechanics, terrific period graphics and sound but some odd choices and glacial pacing conspire to keep Mafia II middle of the road and somewhat forgettable.
So let me say that in Mafia II, you better get used to driving…..and driving, and driving, and finally driving some more. Every chapter has you start out by driving from one part of the city to another and then the missions IN that chapter usually involve some more driving. At first this isn’t too bad because it allows you the time required to take in the HUGENESS of Empire Bay and all of it’s authentic period details. It’s really THAT big and THAT detailed. That said, it doesn’t take too much driving to figure out that Empire Bay, despite all of it’s gorgeous detail and impressive real estate is really just a big hollow shell. There isn’t anything to do in it besides drive from point A to point B and whatever linear, scripted missions are being presented. It’s not open-ended to the point where you can jump into a car (you can steal cars off the street and a mission or two revolves around this mechanic), head to some random part of town and find side-missions to complete or cool events to witness. The developers did try to include Easter eggs hidden throughout the city but they’re not much of an incentive to explore so only the most avid completionist is going to spend THAT much time, tooling around the city finding them. One last thing about driving, the mechanics are straight-forward and a bit simple with not too much difference in the “feel” of each different car you drive BUT there is a fairly large amount of cool, period cars to drive and collect in your garage AND the car-based gun battles are challenging and engaging. Speaking of fighting, the hand-to-hand fighting is actually done very well with very realistic sound work and detailed animations. The mechanics are simple but work effectively to produce a solid, satisfying fighting experience. Many games of this type don’t seem to bother these days with good fighting mechanics. Ground-based gun fighting is a very important part of the game and next to driving and perhaps walking, it’s what you’ll be spending the most time on. Gun fights come often with some lasting quite a bit of time (perhaps depending on your skill). Fortunately, like hand-to-hand fighting, gun fighting is simple yet surprisingly challenging and gritty with effective sound effects and animations.
Keyboard and mouse control are fairly accurate and are precise enough but Mafia II is best played with a controller even on the PC version.
Missions seem somewhat long and drawn out with all the driving you have to do and when you’re not driving somewhere, your walking there which doesn’t help the pacing of the game much. Cutscenes are generally well done and do an admirable job of advancing the story but are not as exciting as they could be which further emphasizes the SLOW pacing of the missions.
Graphics are the big winner in Mafia II. Everything looks beautiful. Characters are well animated with facial expressions and mannerisms that make them look alive. Empire Bay is chock full of gorgeous period eye candy! Everywhere you turn, you find cool new 40’s details that really add to the feeling of being back in time in a living , breathing city. Unfortunately, this city happens to be devoid of anything to do beyond the scripted missions but it looks fantastic. The cars in Mafia II all look fantabulous with their highly reflective real metal looking bodies which rapidly deteriorates as the car accumulates damage. 2K Czech did a wonderful job of adding some really neat looking, individually interesting cars from the 40’s and 50’s that are as fun to drive around in as they are beautiful to look at. Gunfights, car gun fights, and hand-to-hand combat all look and feel suitably gritty and realistic with muzzle flash, smoke, blood, rag doll physics, etc… Cut scenes are well animated and look quite nice.
Lighting in Mafia II, using a custom version of the Illusion Engine, is quite nice and adds to the overall feeling of realism. Volumetric lighting and particle effects abound with smoke from cars, smoke from gun fire, snow, rain, tail light blinkers, changing traffic signals, and more. Everything looks like it should and isn’t too dark which is common with these types of games. You get the feeling that you’re IN a living, breathing environment instead of just watching it on a screen. All the excellent graphics, the great lighting, and well done particle effects really makes you feel like your freezing your butt off walking out of your apartment out to the garage to start up the car. Hats of to 2K Czech and their version of the Illusion Engine since it can push all of those pixels without slowing down, even on my older quasi-gaming computer. You may have to throttle back some of the settings but it will still look good.
Overall the graphics in Mafia II are it’s real shining point along with the audio (see next tab). If you have even a modest DX9 capable computer rig, you won’t be disappointed with the graphics – gameplay and timing might disappoint but not the visuals.
The voice work in Mafia II is quite excellent with the talented Robert Castanzo as Joe Barbaro standing out. He’s a natural in his role as Joe since he himself is FROM Brooklyn, NY. Accents from the other actors are mostly well done and believable. The sound effects are all excellent from the sounds of a bustling city to the appropriate BOOM of a shotgun – everything is high quality and quite believable.
The music in the game is one of the game’s best features and consists of three different in-game radio stations (these can be played on console radios inside various locations or in all 40+ car models) playing a boat-load of authentic, licensed period music such as the bebopping Big Band hit Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy by the Andrew Sisters a la 1941 to the visceral and gritty Boom Boom by John Lee Hooker from 1962 (this is by far one of my favorite tunes in the game and is SO perfect in this genre). There’s a ton of music in between to follow your character through the decades as the story progresses. It’s quite enjoyable to listen to and really adds to the period feel of the game.
Mafia II is a fairly decent third-person action-adventure game with great visuals, awesome voice acting and music, and a good story but despite all of these pros you somehow can’t find much of anything to do within the all the gorgeousness of Empire bay beyond the scripted missions and the pacing of the missions and your progression through the story is SLOWWWWW….and the driving….all that driving!